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There are a myriad of moves made every NFL offseason that have varying degrees of impact.
Some of these only have short-term implications, such as one- or two-year contracts for depth veterans and hires to fill out the positional coaching ranks, while others have the potential to alter an organization’s direction for years to come.
Trading away a franchise player, hiring a head coach or drafting a prospect with the first overall pick can have lasting effects that may set a club back significantly if they don’t pan out.
While it’s admittedly impossible to predict the future, there were a few big-time transactions during the 2022 offseason that look like they’ll be more regrettable than the rest in a few years.
Here’s a look at five moves that will be considered the worst of the 2022 offseason three years from now:
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The Tennessee Titans tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the best AFC regular-season record at 12-5 last year despite missing superstar running back Derrick Henry for more than half of it.
Although their run ended with a disappointing exit in the AFC Divisional Round thanks to the eventual conference champion Cincinnati Bengals, there was still plenty of reason to believe the Titans could stick around as a perennial contender.
Following their controversial decision to trade away top wideout AJ Brown during the draft, it’s unlikely the Titans will be as dangerous in 2022 and beyond.
Tennessee felt shockwaves through the league when it shipped the rising star to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for the Nos. 18 and 101 overall selections.
While the Titans wasted little time identifying a replacement, snagging Arkansas’ Treylon Burks with the first-round pick it received from the Eagles, it will be difficult for the first-year talent to replicate the outstanding early and consistent success that Brown found after being taken in the second round of the 2019 draft.
Brown quickly established himself as one of the league’s top wideouts, surpassing the 1,000-yard receiving mark as both a rookie and sophomore while scoring 20 total touchdowns in that span.
Although he took a step back in 2021 while dealing with injuries that limited him to 13 games, the Ole Miss product still reeled in 63 receptions for 869 yards and five touchdowns.
With the clock ticking on a contract extension, Tennessee brass opted to trade the 25-year-old rather than negotiate. The Eagles had little issue meeting Brown’s demands, signature
the wideout to a four-year, $100 million deal ($57 million guaranteed) immediately after acquiring him.
Brown should play a key role in keeping Philadelphia in contention after the club made a surprise postseason appearance last year.
Without their No. 1 wideout in the fold, the Titans are due for a regression and could struggle to even reach the playoffs in 2022, potentially missing out for the first time since 2018, their last season without Brown.
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After an especially trying campaign, what the Jacksonville Jaguars need right now more than anything else is stability.
New head coach Doug Pederson was brought in to right the ship after a disastrous 11-month run with Urban Meyer at the helm. At his introductory press conference, Pederson admitted there won’t be an “overnight fix” for the franchise’s issues but pledged to change the culture and build a championship-caliber team.
One of the earliest missteps in this rebuilding effort could be the first draft pick of Pederson’s regime. With the No. 1 overall selection, the Jaguars took edge-rusher Travon Walker, a prospect brimming with upside who didn’t put nearly as much on tape as some of the more polished options at the position.
Walker emerged to the top of mocks relatively late in the predraft process. It was widely expected that the Jaguars would go with the highly refined Aidan Hutchinson, who was fresh off of setting school sack records at Michigan, over the more athletic but raw Georgia pass-rusher.
The lack of collegiate production from Walker could be an indication of potential NFL struggles. He only recorded 13 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks over the last three years combined, paltry numbers compared to the 16.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks Hutchinson racked up in 2021 alone.
While Walker tested off the charts at the combine, there have been countless instances of prospects dominating workouts but failing to turn that eye-popping athleticism into on-field success.
There’s a real chance Walker joins that list of promising athletes who never live up to the hype. Given there was an obvious and safer pick available in Hutchinson, this could go down as one of the biggest missteps of not only the 2022 offseason but of the modern era.
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The Washington Commanders made one of the most head-scratching decisions of the offseason when they overpaid the Indianapolis Colts for Carson Wentz.
Washington gave up a 2022 third-round pick and a conditional 2023 third-rounder and moved down five spots in this year’s second round in exchange for a stopgap quarterback and a 2022 seventh-rounder.
The move made even less sense when it was reported that “nobody” was interested in trading for Wentz following a disappointing first season in Indianapolis.
According to The Athletic’s mike sandoanonymous NFL executives claimed most GMs would have rather kept the salary-cap space and draft capital by sticking with incumbent starter Taylor Heinicke over taking on Wentz and his massive contract in exchange for Day 2 draft picks:
“If you polled the entire league and said you can have Taylor Heinicke for $2 million and you have $26 million to spend plus two third-round picks, or you can have Carson Wentz, I’m pretty sure the majority would prefer Heinicke.”
On paper, Wentz’s 2021 numbers don’t look terrible. The veteran QB went 9-8 as a starter while completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,563 yards and 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
A closer look reveals the signal-caller stalled out during Indy’s playoff push, only passing for more than 185 yards and one touchdown once over his final five starts. He struggled despite being supported by the league’s leading rusher in Jonathan Taylor, who emerged as a dominant force in his second year.
With a playoff berth on the line in the season finale, Wentz went 17-of-29 for 185 yards and a touchdown while throwing an interception and taking six sacks against the lowly Jaguars.
It’s not the type of performance that inspires confidence in a starting quarterback, and it’s likely what pushed Indy to move on from Wentz and acquire Matt Ryan this offseason.
Washington probably won’t find itself competing for a Super Bowl with Wentz under center. More realistically, the team will hover around .500, missing out on chances to draft elite QB prospects to build around.
Don’t be surprised if the Commanders are still seeking their franchise quarterback in three years while being thin in other areas due to the loss of picks stemming from this trade.
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The New England Patriots made some of the most bizarre offensive line moves of the 2022 offseason.
It started when the Pats opted to send Shaq Mason to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, accepting
a lowly fifth-round pick for their starting right guard.
Mason had established himself as one of the NFL’s most consistent interior offensive linemen over the last half-decade. He was instrumental in protecting rookie quarterback Mac Jones and bolstering a New England ground game that ranked eighth in the league last year.
The 2015 fourth-round pick won the starting role in his first season and earned 80-plus PFF grades in all but one of the last six years. He finished the 2021 campaign having allowed just a single sack and earned an 86.4 from PFF for his efforts from him, the fourth best mark at the position.
Reinforcing the offensive trenches was one of the top priorities for Bill Belichick during the draft, but the head coach made the rather puzzling decision to take Chattanooga guard Cole Strange with the No. 29 overall selection.
While Strange projects to start at guard for the Patriots, the team likely could have waited until Day 2 to land him.
Rams head coach Sean McVay seemed baffled by the pick. NBC Sports’ Tom E Curran talked to a pair of AFC sources who both concurred the first round was “too early” to select Strange, while another executive told NBC Sports’ Phil Perry they didn’t think the offensive lineman would go “anywhere near” the spot he was ultimately selected.
It’s a deviation from New England’s trend of using Day 3 picks or undrafted rookies to man interior offensive line positions.
Since Logan Mankins—the last interior offensive line prospect the Patriots took in the first round back in 2005—was traded in 2014 (also to Tampa Bay), eight of the nine regular starters the Patriots have deployed at guard or center have been selected in the fourth round or later. Joe Thuney, a third-round pick in 2016, was the only Day 2 player to log consistent IOL snaps for the team.
While Strange could become a consistent presence for the Patriots, the team would have been better off keeping Mason and using its Round 1 pick to address a bigger need, such as wide receiver.
The Pats likely could have snatched up Strange the following night, a move that would have made much more sense when looking back at this draft in a few years.
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The Houston Texans appear to be bouncing between stopgap hires to fill their head coaching vacancies in the post-Bill O’Brien era.
That didn’t change following the firing of David Culley after an ugly 4-13 showing in 2021. The team decided to promote defensive coordinator Lovie Smith into a role he likely won’t hold beyond the upcoming campaign.
There’s little reason to believe Smith will be the one to bring this rebuilding squad back to contention. He hasn’t had a winning season at any of his stops in a decade—his last season above .500 was in 2012, his final year with the Chicago Bears—and is coming off a campaign in which he oversaw a defense that ranked 31st in yards allowed and 27th in points conceded.
Although he found some success early during his tenure in the Windy City, Smith went just 8-24 during a forgettable two-year run with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2014-2016 and ended a disastrous four-and-a-half season stretch at Illinois having won just 17 of 56 games and losing his lone bowl appearance in 2019.
Even Smith’s best years lacked playoff success. He took the Bears to Super Bowl XLI following a 13-3 campaign in 2006 but came up well short against the Indianapolis Colts. He went just 1-2 in his two other postseason trips in nine years with Chicago, the most recent of which came in 2010.
Considering the sheer number of capable candidates available—Brian Flores, Kellen Moore, Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich were just a few of the top-flight options who didn’t land head coaching jobs this offseason—the Texans will ultimately regret passing up the chance to hire one in favor of promoting a retreat who already showed he was incapable of lifting their defense.
This decision will look even worse when one of those coaches lands a job and is thriving in three years while Houston is still looking for a long-term solution for their top job.